A fast lane for walkers in a Liverpool shopping complex

Fast movers get their own walking lane in a new experiment outside Liverpool stores:

Argos has painted new markings on the pavement outside its Liverpool store after research revealed almost half the nation found the slow pace of high streets to be their biggest shopping bugbear.

The new lane, being trialled this week in the Liverpool One shopping complex, hopes to help pick up the pace for those who are hurrying by bypassing the crowds.

New statistics show 31 per cent of people find pavement hoggers frustrating, while more than a quarter (27 per cent) get annoyed by dawdling pedestrians…

‘As the research demonstrates, a faster high street could vastly improve the overall shopping experience for British shoppers across the UK.

As a fast walker, I approve. However, I envision multiple problems arising:
  1. The speed of fast walkers could vary quite a bit from each other. Various people could be moving faster than the general population but still not be moving fast enough for others in the fast track.
  2. What happens when people inevitably wander into the fast track without knowing?
  3. Where is the proper entrance and exit ramp on this track? This isn’t exactly like a moving walkway that has a clear beginning and end. Come to think of it, why not install more moving walkways that can help everyone move faster through a main corridor like this? (It does look like this is an outside setting so that’s an issue.)

How long can this experiment last? While there are a lot of pedestrians on many city streets, I’ve never seen fast lanes like this before.

Another person walks all 6,000 miles of New York City

The urban walking trend continues: a professional walker (seriously) meets the sociologist who walked all of New York City’s streets.

I was, therefore, amazed to learn that there was another person walking the five boroughs: a thirty-something man named Matt Green. Green isn’t a sociologist; he’s more like an inexhaustibly curious visitor. He, too, has walked more than six thousand miles within the city limits. Unlike Helmreich, who records what he sees in his capacious, near-eidetic memory, Green takes photographs with his phone. He posts the photos to a blog, ImJustWalkin.com. Before he decided to walk all of New York City, Green walked across the United States, from New York to Oregon. Helmreich commutes into the city from his house on Long Island. Green, by contrast, has no apartment or job. He walks full-time and stays with friends. His venture is funded by donations.

Obviously, we had to introduce Green and Helmreich. The film that resulted, directed by Riley Hooper, touches on many subjects: nature, race, identity, gentrification. In some ways, it captures the difficulty every New Yorker faces in comprehending a city which is always beyond us as individuals. It’s also a classic New York romance. These two big-city wanderers are kindred spirits. Now—with a little help—they’ve found each other.

A nice little story. The film touches on some of this but I would want the two to compare walking notes in an academic way. What had they each noticed? How much did their interpretations align or differ? How do their field notes compare? Putting their heads together, I’m guessing they could come up an interesting back and forth on both NYC’s famous and less famous areas. This could end up as a good example of group qualitative work – maintaining the rich detail of the methodology but limiting the subjective bias of an individual researcher – that came about serendipitously.

See these earlier posts on the sociologist who published a book on his efforts and gave tours based on his knowledge.

Sociologists walking every block not just in New York City

A sociologist who walked every block of New York City drew attention but can you also learn from walking every block of Tyler, Texas? One sociologist explains:

Because of his interest in the community, Moody said, he has walked every street in Tyler twice. “It took 12 years to do it the first time; 11 years the second time,” Moody said…

“It (walking) is part of my research interests in society,” Moody, who taught sociology and other subjects at different times in six area colleges, said…

“I’m sure there are people who have lived here all their life and never been in parts of this town. If we understand and love one another, we will have a better community and I believe we will have more unity. We should never turn down an opportunity to learn from someone, whether it’s a homeless person, a wino or a wealthy billionaire,” Moody said…

n his walks around town, Moody said he has attended services or toured every church, synagogue and mosque, although he is a Southern Baptist.

Moody added that he has toured every hospital in Tyler, day care centers, nonprofit agencies, television and radio stations, the newspaper office and nursing homes as well as East Texas juvenile correctional facilities, state mental hospitals and prisons.

Two quick thoughts:

1. Tyler may not be New York City but it is still a sizable city of around 100,000 people. Sociology has a long history of community studies and the experiences of people in places like Tyler may hold a lot of interesting research potential. Yet, I’m not sure the field is really interested in the sorts of Middletown studies that once were more common.

2. People who really want to know their communities could use this method. This may be a sort of fad but not for those really invested in their community. I’m thinking of local politicians who claim this but this is typically based on their social connections. While these certainly matter, it is another thing to physically walk everything.

The decline in kids walking to school

Several experts talk about the issues with many fewer American kids walking to school compared to fifty years ago. The negative effects? Less exercise, less learning about active transportation, less exploration in and knowledge of their own neighborhoods.

I suspect many people will blame parents and kids for this and tell them to simply walk and stop being lazy/decadent/unnecessarily scared/etc. However, it is not as if many Americans regularly walk places outside of major cities and denser neighborhoods. Some of this may be due to comfort but other factors are involved including nicer vehicles, more fear about crime, more sprawl (particularly in the Sunbelt) which means further distances and fewer pedestrian-friendly streets, less emphasis on physical activity in daily life (which is not necessarily laziness but rather more sedentary lives overall), and a shift toward technology (starting with television) rather than active exploration. In other words, this is likely a multifacted problem that is not easily solved by simply “making” kids walk.

Walk-NYC-sociologist gives pricey tours based on his knowledge

Sociologists often debate or lament their public role but one sociologist who has walked all of New York City 16 times makes money on giving tours:

Helmreich, who wrote “The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City,” wants more than anything to share these lesser-known wonders of New York with others. He’s even willing to play tour guide, showing off his knowledge of the city’s more than 121,000 blocks…

Helmreich’s tour, dubbed “The New York That Nobody Sees,” can accommodate up to six people on an eight-plus-hour tour to any of the five boroughs. The cost: up to $1,500 per person, including meals, luxury transportation, travel expenses and signed copies of his book.

If a descendant of Italian immigrants wants to see the neighborhood his great-great-grandfather lived in when he came to America, Helmreich can show him and tell him about how it’s changed. If a real estate developer wants to know what the next hot neighborhood will be, Helmreich, a sociology professor at City College well-versed in gentrification patterns, can bring her to the precise block with the best housing stock ripe for a renaissance…

“The New York Nobody Knows” was such a hit that Princeton University Press signed him to write five more books, each one delving deeper into one of the boroughs.

Is he doing a public service through sharing his research knowledge or is he out to make money? Can he do both? It is not uncommon for academics to get involved with consulting or working with organizations. Yet, it sounds like the opportunities created by these tours are primarily for the wealthy and people who could capitalize on the information. Additionally, how recognized are his sociological observations by other sociologists and other scholars of New York City? Sociologists can seem to discredit more popular appeals – see the discussion around Sudhir Venkatesh’s The Floating City – even as many want to have broader recognition from the public.

More broadly, it would be worth hearing from more sociologists about the line between research and entrepreneurship. Is there a line where one has “sold out”? How can one do both?

The “something of a fad” of walking every block of a city

Want to walk every street in your community? The New York Times suggests you may be part of a fad:

Even in the era of Google Street View, walking each mile of a city has become something of a fad. A woman finished walking every street in Berkeley in 2007. A man in his mid-90s walked over 300 miles of Sydney, Australia, before he died in 2008. It took three years for a Minneapolis woman, Francine Corcoran, to walk the 1,071 miles that make up the city. London has been walked, as has San Francisco.

And while the other walkers did not set off explicitly to round up wackiness the way Mr. Dalzell did, at a walker’s pace, they no doubt saw plenty of it anyway.

“When you walk a city block by block, you are forced to slow down and look at everything — you see more, you feel more, you get into the rhythm of the neighborhoods,” said William B. Helmreich, a professor of sociology at City College of New York who wrote “The New York Nobody Knows,” a book about walking every street — some 6,000 miles — of the city’s five boroughs.

“In urban areas, you often don’t feel like an individual, which makes you want to put your stamp of uniqueness on something,” Professor Helmreich said, “even if it is just the paint on your house.”

I agree that this approach would get you closer to day-to-day life in a large city. However, I wonder at the use of the phrase “something of a fad.” A fad implies something that is quite popular but dies out quickly. In other words, it is a trend. But, the article goes on to cite at least six people who have done this over a seven year stretch. Is this enough to be a pattern or trend? The only way I see this working is due to the unusual nature of this activity: it requires a lot of dedication and time. Because of this, even getting a few people to do this and record their activities (are there secret whole-city walkers out there?) might be enough to qualify as a fad. But, it is hard to imagine this truly becoming a fad, either in being something people want to do or actually do.

Smartphones can turn urban dwellers into zombie pedestrians

What happens when urban residents and visitors are engrossed in their smartphones? It can lead to zombie pedestrians.

But the growing ranks of these cellphone addicts are turning cities like Tokyo, London, New York and Hong Kong into increasingly hazardous hotspots, where zombified shoppers appear to be part of vast games of human pinball…

Tokyo Fire Department, which runs the ambulance service in the megalopolis, says that in the four years to 2013, 122 people had to be rushed to hospital after accidents caused by pedestrians using cellphones.

As well as the vaguely comedic incidents of businessmen smacking into lamp-posts or tripping over dogs, this total also included a middle-aged man who died after straying onto a railway crossing while looking at his phone…

Phone fidgeters dawdling along at snail’s pace, forcing cyclists and pram-pushing mums to swerve out of the way have become such an irritant in Tokyo that public notices have started to appear warning offenders to expect “icy stares”, appealing to the Japanese sense of social harmony — assuming people look up from their phones in the first place.

Smartphone apps activated by sensors that flash warning signs or display the pavement on the screen have also been developed in response to the problem.

An unintended side effect of technological advancement. Walking in a big city can be a dangerous task, particularly given the emphasis in many places on helping cars get to their destinations faster. Things that distract pedestrians – just like things that can distract drivers – can lead to negative outcomes.

It is interesting to note the last piece above that tries to solve a problem created by technology with a technological advancement: just have an app that alerts people. It’s technology all the way down! Would something like Google Glass help get rid of these issues since people would still have their eyes facing forward?